Tag Archive | nebraska football

III

This is my 3rd season for Throwback Thursday.

Nebraska’s first game of 2016 is on September 3.

The first Husker to take a trip with me down memory lane this year.. a player known to many as simply RK3.

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#12 Ron Kellogg III, Class of 2013

The Rule of 3’s is certainly at play here, but it’s not the only factor contributing to my choice to kick off this years series.  Ron Kellogg III is also a proud Westside Warrior, an alum of the school district I now proudly represent as Director of Communications & Engagement.  These first few weeks in my new role have been an absolute pleasure; I am BLOWN AWAY by the level of devotion and innovation this District has for the thousands of young people who learn here everyday.  To share these stories on a daily basis is truly an honor.

For Kellogg, his time as a prized student athlete at Westside had a huge impact on his trajectory into Nebraska Football history, a journey that began several years before he started high school.

“I have a picture of myself on Halloween in a #12 Nebraska uniform, so I guess you could say it was fate I would be a part of the Husker program,” Kellogg told me recently.  “The main reason I went to Nebraska is all because of Eric Crouch.  He signed a picture I drew for him and he wrote me a message saying Go Big Red, shook my hand and took a picture.  I waited 2 hours and 30 minutes to get that 2-minute encounter.  Thanks, Eric! LOL.”

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At Westside, Kellogg was the star quarterback who led his team to state playoffs his senior year, passing for 12 touchdowns.  The Lincoln Journal Star gave him Class A All-State honors, and several colleges including Northwest Missouri State and North Dakota offered him scholarships.  Kellogg wanted to stay red.

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Kellogg, surrounded by his parents, signing his letter of intent to play football for Nebraska

“D1 schools did not recruit me heavily.  I was actually only offered a walk-on spot because I won a quarterback camp at Nebraska,” said Kellogg.  “When I was given my opportunity to play, I knew from that point on, I needed to show everyone #1: that walk-ons can play, #2: that every time I put on that helmet representing this great state I would be an example for those young men watching in the stands or at home that with heart, determination, and a pinch of humbleness you can compete with the best of them.”

And he did.  After waiting patiently for three seasons, Kellogg finally saw playing time in several games his junior year.  His senior year, 2013, everything changed when 4-year starter Taylor Martinez suffered a foot injury.  Kellogg completed 4-of-5 passes against Southern Miss.  He completed another 8-of-9 passes against SDSU.  Game after game he was consistent and strong.. but when Nebraska played Northwestern, he became legend.

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Photo courtesy Nebraska Athletics

Kellogg threw a 49-yard Hail Mary touchdown pass to then redshirt freshman Jordan Westerkamp, the first game-winning Hail Mary TD in Nebraska history.

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Photo courtesy Nebraska Athletics

“My favorite moments are talking with fans about that night,” said Kellogg.  “Apparently I am the reason A) they had to buy a new TV and B) I caused a couple to go the hospital due to heart attacks.”

Believe it or not, that game is not Kellogg’s standout memory when he looks back at his time at Nebraska.

“My favorite moment was the Penn State game,” said Kellogg.  “It started to snow.  It was picture perfect to be in that historic stadium, the fans in all-white, and then snow started to fall.  Plus we won in overtime.”

For years, Ron Kellogg had been the guy in the background while Husker nation focused its attention on other players.  Suddenly, he was THE guy, the big fish swimming in a Sea of Red.

“It was definitely an eye opening experience,” said Kellogg.  “No one prepares you to be in situations where everyone from the elderly to toddlers, know EVERYTHING about you, from knowing all about my family to what classes I was taking.  You have to be mentally prepared for that, and most importantly, you have to be careful.  Fame and power can swallow a sane person whole.  But, that fame part is something I will never get over, not because it’s cool to take pictures with people or talk about ‘what is was like to throw the hail mary’; it’s much more than that.  My senior year of playing Nebraska football was the best time of my life.  I was able to impact and reach people that I never thought I could prior.”

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Photo courtesy Stephen Rickerl for the Fremont Tribune

Kellogg won the Nebraska Student-Athlete HERO Leadership Award in 2012, was on the Brook Berringer Citizenship Team in 2012 and 2013, and the Tom Osborne Citizenship Team in 2014.

“There is nothing I love more than talking Husker football with people,” said Kellogg.  “Especially the kids.  If my words inspire them to be a Husker I know my job is done.”

Ironically, guiding young athletes IS now Kellogg’s job; he’s the Athletic Director at Dawes Middle School in Lincoln, currently in his second year.

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Photo courtesy Gwyneth Roberts for the Lincoln Journal Star

“I am a part of these students’ lives from athletics to academics and social life,” said Kellogg.  “It’s honestly the most interesting thing in the world seeing these young boys and girls grow up and mature.  The crazy part is sitting back at the end of a school year and being able to say to yourself and your team of staff that you were a part of helping these children go on to the next level.  I love every moment of it because I feel like I am making a difference one way or another.”

Kellogg will also be watching a few other students this fall… his Huskers, now led by an entirely different regime than he had during his days at Nebraska.  He offers his support for Coach Riley, and for wide receivers coach Keith Williams, recently arrested for DUI.

“I have faith he’ll straighten up and continue to be the dominant leader of the team,” said Kellogg.  “Look at what he does with his players and NFL players, and how he uses social media.  As a fan, you have to be excited about this.”

Kellogg is also excited to watch De’Mornay Pierson El, a guy he calls ‘explosive’, able to impact the game from special teams to offense.

“With that kind of weapon, not to mention the other five wideouts we have, and the mobility and absurd arm strength Tommy has, we can make some noise,” said Kellogg.

Speaking of noise.. Ron Kellogg isn’t ready to go quietly into the Nebraska night.  A proud ‘Westside Warrior for life!’ he wants to return to his alma mater someday to coach and teach, and maybe lead a new generation of nationally respected athletes.

“My dream job is to build a performance center,” said Kellogg.  “I want to be able to wake up everyday and say to myself, I am going to send this set amount of student athletes to compete in Division 1, D2 or D3 athletics.  I truly believe there are students athletes here [in Nebraska] that should be playing D1 sports and maybe they just need help or a little nudge in the right direction.”

It wasn’t so long ago, Ron Kellogg was that guy, the walk-on from Westside High School who became a Nebraska Football star.   In 2013, he was awarded the Tom Novak Award, described by Nebraska Athletics as “an honor which best exemplifies courage and determination despite all odds.”

“I had extra drive to show kids throughout the state of Nebraska, that ‘hey! You can do this!’  You don’t need any stars next to your name to make an impact,” said Kellogg.  “I guess you can say I am living proof that if you put your mind to something, you can accomplish it.”

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Many thanks to Ron for the interview.. and for his incomparable softball skills helping Team Benning dominate the 2015 Celebrity Softball game!

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Building A Legacy

“Heroes get remembered, but legends never die.”

I LOVE this quote.  I first heard it from the movie The Sandlot (which is a MUST SEE if you haven’t..) and I’ve always held onto it, even naming my fledgling college video production company ‘Legend Productions’.  To me, it always meant to push harder, to do a little more, to build a legacy that will be extend long past your physical life.

This weekend on KETV Chronicle, our Rob McCartney interviewed coach, Congressman, athletic director and mentor Dr. Tom Osborne.  He is a Hall of Fame college football coach, one of the most respected in the history of the game.  He won his congressional district with an astounding 83-percent of the vote.  He stepped in to the Nebraska Athletics’ office at a time of fan unrest and turmoil and ‘righted the ship’ according to many sports experts.

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But when Rob asked  ‘T.O.’ how he would define a successful life, Osborne said he hoped to be defined by the relationships created through the Teammates mentoring program he founded, not just by what was accomplished on the football field.

” That ripple effect on down through history is your legacy,” Osborne told Rob. “Trophies tarnish, rings get thrown in the trash can and records, if you think about it, who was a great coach 90-years ago?  You hear a few names but you don’t remember those guys anymore, and that’ll be the same thing with me and other people.  But that ripple effect, the influence you had on people, that will continue on down through many generations.”

CLICK HERE to watch Rob McCartney’s exclusive interview with Dr. Tom Osborne on KETV Chronicle.

Rob has interviewed Osborne numerous times throughout the years, developing mutual respect and friendship through that relationship, and this answer stood out for Rob and many of us who watched Chronicle.  Of everything Dr. Tom Osborne has accomplished, MENTORING is one of the things he’s proudest of.

She may separated by distance, time and experience from Osborne.. but that desire to make an impact on people is mutual for 16-year old Grace Heggem.

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Photo courtesy Jenn Cady Photography

“Spending time with a child even just once a week and getting to know them can really inspire them to set and achieve goals of their own,” Grace told me recently.  She’s promoting mentoring across Scottsbluff as Miss Western Nebraska’s Outstanding Teen, after an experience with a classmate two years ago.

“One of the girls in my class had confessed to us that she had been depressed lately and the previous weekend had suicidal thoughts,” said Grace.  “She said that that week I had come up and talked to her and that simple act had made her feel like someone cared and was one of the reasons she was still here.  I immediately broke down and later realized the impact simple acts can have.  Sometimes all people need is to know that someone cares.”

And it was a mentor who led Grace to the path she is currently on to compete for Miss Nebraska’s Outstanding Teen.  Her childhood babysitter was Miss America 2011 Teresa Scanlan, who encouraged her to try a pageant when Grace was 13.

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“I loved it!” said Grace.  “The entire process is a great confidence booster and the interview/people skills can really be beneficial in the future.  These pageants bring about personal development.  I have seen for myself the positive changes they bring about for young women.  I’ts not always about the end result, it’s about who you become in the process.”

 Grace is quick to note she’s not just a ‘pageant queen’.  She is president of the sophomore class at Scottsbluff High School, vice president of Key Club (focusing on community service), a member of National Honor Society, she plays varsity volleyball, she’s involved in her school’s upcoming musical, she’s a dancer and she plays piano.

Grace credits her work ethic, the ‘5am-6pm way of life’ as she calls it, to her parents, a quality she says would make her a great state representative.

“I am diverse and involved in a wide variety of activities which makes me personable and able to reach a greater amount of people in my state,” said Grace.  “My grandpa is a rancher so I understand and can definitely appreciate that major element of what makes Nebraska.  As my dad is the owner of a construction business, I understand the value of hard work.”

That family unit is also Grace’s top priority.

“My mom is my number one supporter no matter what, my best friend, and the person I laugh with the most,” said Grace.  “My dad has always supported me in everything I did and always encourages me.  My brothers are my best buds whether we’re watching football, laughing, or even arguing.  Growing up with three brothers, I never played with barbies or dolls because we were too busy playing with Nerf guns or wrestling. (I totally won by the way.)”

Neither pageants nor any other outside influence is likely to change those core values for Grace, who notes her biggest role model is Duck Dynasty star and devout Christian Sadie Robertson.

“I really respect her because she’s in a business where her values aren’t necessarily prevalent but she still stays true to them,” said Grace.  “She is different but she embraces it and by doing this inspires others to not be afraid to be themselves either.  That is something I definitely admire and try to do myself.”

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And whether Grace Heggem is signing autographs or volunteering for the Children’s Miracle Network, she hopes to inspire her fellow pageant contestants (the girls she now calls her friends), to join her in the mission SHE embraces.

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“If I were to become Miss Nebraska’s Outstanding Teen I would like to create a mentoring program using our Nebraska titleholders!” said Grace.  “Pageant queens absolutely have the potential to be mentors in their communities.  It’s crazy to me how a little girl’s eyes light up when they see and talk to a ‘princess’ with a crown on her head.’

And while Grace Heggem has a lot to be proud of.. being featured in her local paper, playing piano for crowds of hundreds, being elected a leader by her fellow students and peers.. that impact through mentoring is the legacy she wants to leave behind.

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Tom Osborne’s players have gone on to do amazing things (CLICK HERE to read a few in my Throwback Thursday Husker series!).  Those young men, and the people Osborne mentored have passed on those life lessons to their children, and kids THEY’VE mentored.  If the little girl smiling above with Grace goes on to mentor someone, and SHE goes on to mentor someone, that cycle of positive influence will continue long beyond what two people remember; it becomes a legacy.  That is Grace Heggem’s goal on her way to compete for Miss Nebraska’s Outstanding Teen.. the sparkly crown is just a bonus.

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CLICK EACH LINK to follow Miss Western Nebraska’s Outstanding Teen 2016 Grace Heggem

on FACEBOOK, and on INSTAGRAM

WANT TO LEARN MORE ABOUT GRACE?

CLICK HERE * 2015 * Amazing Grace

CLICK HERE * 2014 * Nebraska’s Outstanding Teens

For more information about the Miss Western Nebraska’s Outstanding Teen Pageant, visit THEIR FACEBOOK PAGE.  For information on becoming a contestant, contact Director Kyla Ansley at 308-631-0938 or by email at kyla_ansley@hotmail.com.  You can also email thirtyone.hayes@yahoo.com.

For more information on becoming a Miss Nebraska’s Outstanding Teen contestant, contact Director Heather Edwards at heatheraloseke@gmail.com or Director Kali Tripp at kalinicoletv@gmail.com.

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The 2016 Miss Nebraska’s Outstanding Teen Pageant takes place June 10 in North Platte, Nebraska.  Learn more on THEIR WEBSITE, FACEBOOK PAGE, or follow ON TWITTER and ON INSTAGRAM.

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PREVIOUS.. Miss Kool-Aid Days 2016 Chelsea Arnold!

NEXT.. Miss Douglas County 2016 Savannah Rave!

To read more about this year’s contestants, or the Miss Nebraska/Miss Nebraska’s OT classes of 2015 & 2014, click the THERE SHE IS link at the top of the page!

Signing Day

Does football season every really end in Nebraska?

No.  No it does not.

There may be lulls in the action.. times that are quieter than other.. but there is ALWAYS something going on in Husker nation.  Practices, Spring Game preparation and of course, RECRUITING.  Tomorrow is National Signing Day and we’ll find out who will soon join the iconic Big Red.

It wasn’t so long ago a straight-A student at Lincoln East High School was counting down to this very day, ready to announce his intentions to stay in his hometown and play college football for the University of Nebraska.

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#56 Rob Zatechka, Nebraska Offensive Tackle 1990-1994 (Photo courtesy Nebraska Athletics)

When you think of Nebraska Football in the 90’s, you think DYNASTY.  DOMINATION.  But when Zatechka came aboard as an 18-year old young man, perhaps the state of the team wasn’t all that different from today.

CLICK HERE TO WATCH KETV’S THROWBACK THURSDAY FEATURE ON DR. ROB ZATECHKA!

“At that time (in 1991), we hadn’t won a conference championship in three seasons,” Zatechka told me last fall.  “In that era, it was considered abysmal.  It was hot seat material for a coach at that time.”

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Photo courtesy HuskerNsider.com

Zatechka was a red-shirt freshman that year, but played in almost all games, including Nebraska’s victory against Oklahoma.  It was Zatechka who blocked the Sooners late in the game, clearing the way for Calvin Jones to get a first down, then a touchdown on the next play to win.

“It was one of those things you think about growing up as a kid in Nebraska, or growing up in Lincoln, for what you think about as classic Nebraska football,” said Zatechka.  “Conference title on the line, playing Oklahoma, it was in a freezing rain, the weather was horrible.  Come from behind, win the game, we won the Big 8 title and went to the Orange Bowl.”

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Photo courtesy Brendan Stai Golf Classic

Perhaps that was the beginning, a sign of what WOULD be for this powerhouse group that has become legendary in the history of Nebraska Football.  Dubbed ‘the Pipeline’, Nebraska’s 1994 starting offensive line produced some of the best players Nebraska has ever had.  (CLICK HERE to read more in my interview with longtime Offensive Line Coach Milt Tenopir.)

“You had Joel Wilks and myself over at left guard and left tackle,” said Zatechka.  “Aaron Graham was very business-like as a center.  Over on the right side of the line you had Zach Wiegert at right tackle; guy was a three time All-Conference, three time All-American, Outland winner.  You had Brendan Stai, another All-American, and prior to Brendan you had Will Shields, again, another All-American and Outland Winner (CLICK HERE to read my interview with Shields earlier this season.).”

These guys were SO GOOD, they probably could’ve whispered their game plan to the opposing team and STILL won.

WAIT… THEY DID.

“About every third play of every single game they would line up and tell the defensive linemen what the play was, where the ball was going,” said Zatechka.  “Again, you’ve got a couple Outland Trophy winners there, how are you going to stop it? Will Shields, Brendan Stai, Zach Wiegert; those guys were so good, the defensive players could know exactly where the ball was going and there really wasn’t anything they could do to stop them.”

A humble guy, Zatechka used the word ‘them’ throughout our interview, though he was a standout leader in that powerhouse group on and off the field.  By 1994, Zatechka was named Team Captain and led Nebraska to the Huskers’ first national championship since 1971.  The same season he racked up award after award for his athletic performance, he also nabbed nearly every academic honor available, including Nebraska’s Male Student-Athlete of the Year 1994-1995 and more than $50,000 in postgraduate scholarships.  Zatechka actually graduated BEFORE his senior season on the football field with a biological sciences degree, becoming the first student athlete in University of Nebraska history to win the Student Leader of the Year award.  He was also Coach Tom Osborne’s first graduate with a perfect 4.0 grade point average.

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Photo courtesy Nebraska Medicine

Zatechka played for the New York Giants from 1995 to 1998, a way to continue his love for the game and pay for his venture onto a new playing field.. to become a doctor.

“I always waned to do medicine, I always had a strong interest in science, a big interest in biology,” said Zatechka.  “It’s a great way to help people and work with people.”

Now as an anesthesiologist in the Omaha area, Zatechka and his wife Jennifer are also active philanthropists, volunteering their time and donating money to numerous causes including the Aksarben Coronation Ball, MemoriesForKids.Org, Omaha Performing Arts and the Rimington Trophy Award benefiting the Boomer Esiason Foundation.

And in his ‘spare’ time, Zatechka still talks football, stepping up to the mic every week with longtime Omaha sportscaster and friend Travis Justice.

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The Husker Doc Talk podcast at HuskerMax.com draws in as many as 75,000 listeners a week, many tuning in to hear ‘Dr. Rob’s’ insight in today’s Huskers and what he envisions for their future (CLICK HERE for a complete list of the team’s podcasts.)  Some of those same fans may argue Nebraska will NEVER have a team like the 1994 or 1995 Huskers.

(Travis: “What do you call the ’95 Huskers, Rob?”  Dr. Rob: ” ’94’s backups!”)

Ironically, the guy who looks at that ’91 win over Oklahoma as his favorite Husker moment, points to this year’s upset win over Michigan State as a landmark moment.

“That was probably one of the best offensive performances we’ve seen out of Nebraska this year, especially in terms of offensive line production,” said Zatechka.  “I love what I’ve seen from Coach Cavanaugh (Offensive Line Coach).  You’ve got to have hope, especially with a new staff.  I’m one of those guys where I’ve said, historically, you gotta give a new guy at least three to five years.”

HOPE.  A great word on the eve of National Signing Day. Tonight, as he does most days of the year, football season or not, Dr. Rob is online fielding tweets and messages about this year’s prospects and NEXT year’s possibilities.  And to the Recruit Class of 2016 and current Huskers, a message from Dr. Rob Zatechka, member of the Nebraska Recruit Class of 1990 and one of the best to ever play at Memorial Stadium..

“Keep doing what you’re doing,” said Zatechka.  “You’ve just got to find that spark a little more consistently and I think those guys will.”

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Photo courtesy Nebraska Medicine

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PREVIOUS POST.. Class of 2012, Rex Burkhead!

For a FULL LIST of 2015 Throwback Thursday Huskers, CLICK HERE!

When Good Guys Win

We’ve done it!  Two Husker wins in a row!  In a season that’s been, at times, one to forget, most Nebraska fans will celebrate every victory and milestone with enthusiasm and a smile.  In fact, in our Sunday poll on ketv.com, a majority of voters said they think the Huskers will BEAT the #5 undefeated Hawkeyes on Black Friday!  Who knows!!

For KETV producer Jay Roberts, the secret to Nebraska’s recent success is pretty simple.. I’m NOT covering the games.

I was in LA when USC beat Nebraska in 2006.

I was at Memorial Stadium when Nebraska BARELY lost to Texas a few weeks later.

I was in Kansas City when Nebraska lost in the Big XII Championship game that December.

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I was at Camp Randall when Wisconsin crushed Nebraska 48-17 in 2011.

And I was at Ohio Stadium when the Buckeyes blanked the Huskers 63-38 in 2013.  Actually, I think it was at this game I shared my 0-5 Reporter Record with Nebraska wide receiver Kenny Bell, who then responded ‘maybe you shouldn’t go on the road with us anymore!’

Assistant News Director Vonn Jones, hasn’t let me cover the Huskers since.

BACK TO OHIO STATE… I will always remember a handful of moments from that trip.  The Buckeyes Athletic Department, for whatever reason, provided FREE McFLURRIES IN THE PRESS BOX, and I think I gained 19 pounds in 3 hours.  While I am a HUGE fan of the Pride of Nebraska Husker Marching Band, the Buckeye Band was downright PHENOMENAL, performing a halftime show based on old-school Nintendo games. INCREDIBLE.

Finally, the professionalism and kindness exhibited by Nebraska star Rex Burkhead.

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#22 Rex Burkhead, Nebraska I-Back 2009-2012 (Photo courtesy Nebraska Athletics)

Burkhead had a hell of a game that day.  He recorded the longest run of his career, pushing his own total at Nebraska to 3,046 (only the 7th Husker in history to reach the 3K mark), and he marked the 13th 100-yard rushing game of his career.  Then, in the 3rd quarter, Burkhead went down, badly injuring his left knee.  Even up in the press box, we could see that Rex, who’d taken hit after hit throughout his time at Nebraska, was hurting. The following week, he started against Northwestern, but left the game.. and didn’t return for the four following games.

After each game I covered, I tried to find players or coaches willing to do a live interview with Jon/Andy during our Big Red Zone post-game coverage.  Burkhead was a clear fan favorite and had talked to us several times before.  Looking back to Ohio State, I wonder how much pain Rex Burkhead was in both emotionally and physically, perhaps already worrying how much of his senior year he would miss because of his injury.  Not knowing at the time how bad it was, I once again approached him after the game.  He could’ve just ignored me.  He could’ve cussed at me, or shot me a dirty look.  Rex Burkhead APOLOGIZED, saying he was sorry, but wasn’t up for it.

 A moment for me that revealed character and maturity, probably isn’t even a blip on this guy’s Husker Memories radar.  He was the Team MVP, Team Captain his senior AND junior year, a Sports Illustrated Honorable Mention All-American, a Doak Walker Semifinalist, Guy Chamberlin Trophy winner, and a First-Team All-Big Ten member.

Those are just his awards for his work ON the field. 2011 in particular was a remarkable year for Burkhead, still arguably one of the best rushers in Nebraska history.

Click here to watch KETV’s Throwback Thursday feature on #22 Rex Burkhead!

“Probably my favorite [moment] was the Ohio State game my junior year,” Burkhead told me recently.  “It was our Big Ten opener and we were down by a hefty margin.  I think, at the time, it was the biggest comeback in school history.  We came back and won in the final few minutes.  The crowd was going crazy; it was just an unbelievable atmosphere that night.”

Burkhead also loves that game because a friend of his got some national attention for the first time.

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KETV’s Thor Tripp was interviewing Burkhead for a profile story, and asked why he was wearing a ‘Team Jack’ bracelet on his wrist.  Burkhead told him about a little boy with brain cancer who had asked for an autograph; instead, Burkhead invited him to Memorial Stadium to look around.  An incredible gesture, one that to this day, Burkhead doesn’t take credit for.

“Really, it all started with Coach Pelini taking him in, allowing him access to practice, then putting him up in a suite during a game and really, Jack just becoming another teammate with the guys,” said Burkhead.

KETV OCTOBER 2011: Click here to read about Jack’s first Game Day, and how the Huskers all became Team Jack fans.

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Photo courtesy Nebraska Athletics

Pelini, a father of 3, and Burkhead brought back Jack and other children with pediatric brain cancer, to take part in team activities and traditions.  Through that, Nebraska fell in love with these kids.. and we also learned the terrible truth about this horrific disease.  Isaiah, the little boy in this photo with Jack doing the ‘Tunnel Walk’ with the team before the Wisconsin game in 2012, died just a few weeks later.

KETV MAY 2012: Click here to learn about Jack Hoffman and his family’s mission to spread national awareness of pediatric brain cancer.

8-million people and counting saw what happened next.. the Nebraska Cornhuskers rallied around Jack, bringing the pint-sized player onto the field during the Spring Game in 2013. Wearing his friend Rex’s #22, Jack Hoffman ran for a touchdown, cheered on by 60,000 fans.  In the weeks and months that followed, the Hoffman family was invited to the White House to meet President Obama, they won an ESPY for Best Moment of 2013, and best yet, THE WORLD was talking about pediatric brain cancer.

Click here to read my blog about Jack’s incredible moment at Memorial Stadium: See Jack Run.

Nebraska Fullback CJ Zimmerer (another Throwback Thursday Husker!) was the brainchild behind that magical moment, but the connection, THE FRIENDSHIP between this little boy and Nebraska football players and coaches began because of Rex Burkhead.  He was named Captain of the Allstate AFCA Good Works Team, a 3-time member of the Brook Berringer Citizenship Team and the 2012 Uplifting Athletes Rare Disease Champion.  Since Rex Burkhead responded to the Hoffman family’s request in 2012, just asking for an autograph, the Team Jack Foundation has raised more than $2 million dollars for pediatric brain cancer research.

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“Myself and Jack and Andy and his family never would’ve thought it would expand like it did,” said Burkhead.  “It’s been unbelievable just to see the expansion of the Team Jack Foundation, how much support is still out there, not just in the state of Nebraska but across the country as well.”

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Rex and Jack still keep in touch, the Hoffmans even going to see Burkhead’s new team play.  After graduating from Nebraska, Burkhead was drafted by the Cincinatti Bengals, a team that’s only lost ONCE so far this season.

“I’m really enjoying it, it’s a great team and a great bunch of guys on our team who love the team camaraderie aspect of the game,” said Burkhead.  “It’s a lot tougher to do that in the NFL, just because of the business aspect.”

Burkhead also follows his alma mater, and calls Nebraska’s firing of his coach, Bo Pelini, very tough.

“Bo was a huge reason that I went to the University of Nebraska,” said Burkhead.  I just loved everything about him.  I loved the character he was instilling in the program with the players.  How he taught me not only things on the football field but off the field as well.  Very disappointing and sad to see them make that move, that switch.  Even though I may not have agreed with it, I’m still always going to support the Huskers no matter what.”

Burkhead adds that he met Coach Mike Riley in the spring and that he seemed like a great guy.  Fitting, coming from a guy I once heard described as ‘the most beloved Husker football player since Brook Berringer.’

To the Huskers fighting to the finish line of 2015, Burkhead says keep going forward and stay positive.

“Keep fighting, you never know what can happen toward the end of the year,” said Burkhead.  “Just know the former players have your backs and we look forward to Saturdays every weekend.”

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And to all Nebraska fans, from the Hoffmans watching from Atkinson, to the parents who named their baby boys ‘Rex’ (we met two of them!), to the journalists who remember a star athlete and all-around nice guy, Burkhead says he’s honored you DO remember.

“Definitely an honor, a privilege,” said Burkhead.  “That’s Husker football for you.  The support there is unbelievable.”

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(Photo courtesy Nebraska Athletics)

Click here to read more about #22 Rex Burkhead via his bio with Nebraska Athletics!

Click here to learn more about the Team Jack Foundation on their website; Click here to connect with Team Jack on Facebook

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PREVIOUS POST.. Class of 1982, Dave Rimington!
NEXT WEEK.. Class of 1994, Dr. Rob Zatechka!

What’s In A Name?

RIMINGTON.

What do you think of when you hear that name?

The Rimington Trophy.  The Nebraska Football legend.  All-American student AND athlete.

How about the man who has raised more than $100 million dollars to fight cystic fibrosis and find a cure?

100-MILLION DOLLARS.  Scratch that.. Nebraska Athletics journalist (and legend in his own right) Randy York puts that fundraising total closer to 105-MILLION.  Randy’s recent profile of Dave Rimington, inducted as the first football player to be part of the inaugural 2015 class of the University of Nebraska Athletics Hall of Fame, is nothing short of jaw-dropping.  It’s a reminder of how one person, any of us really, can CHANGE THE WORLD.

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#50 Dave Rimington, Center, 1979-1982 (Photo courtesy Nebraska Athletics)

Rimington is a local guy, an Omaha South High graduate, who made the college football history books in his time at Nebraska.  He is the only player to win the Outland Trophy in consecutive years and in 1982, he also won the Lombardi Award.  That dedication to excellence continued in the classroom; Rimington was a two-time first team academic All-American, an NCAA Top 5 student athlete and a College Football Hall of Fame Scholar-Athlete.

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Photo courtesy Nebraska Athletics

Yet Rimington was still humbled to be selected as the first football inductee for the Huskers’ new Athletics Hall of Fame.

“It’s awesome,” Rimington told KETV’s Andrew Ozaki.  “For all of the fantastic athletes that have been here, from the football team and every sports team, to be in the inaugural class is quite an honor.”

Click here to watch KETV’s Husker Throwback Thursday feature on #50 Dave Rimington!

When Rimington returned to Memorial Stadium to be honored for his induction, his status in Nebraska was clear.. fans surrounded him on the sidelines to shake his hand, snap a photo, and for a few moments, talk to a Husker legend.

“I remember all the players.  I remember the struggles, the good times and the bad times together,” said Rimington, who also told Ozaki about his favorite moment at Nebraska.  “I think the first time we beat Oklahoma my freshman year.  I actually wasn’t playing, but it’s still my favorite moment because it was the first time Coach Osborne beat Oklahoma.  It was a really big moment.”

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Photo courtesy huskermax.com

Rimington had his share of big moments, including seeing his own jersey be retired at Nebraska his senior year, making history winning the Big 8 Offensive Player of the Year as a lineman, and being chosen in the first round of the 1983 NFL draft.  He played in the pros for seven years before accepting a new job.

“A good friend of mine is Boomer Esiason,” said Rimington.  “He has a son with cystic fibrosis and he’s got a foundation.  I’ve been running his foundation in New York City for the last 22 years, so I’ve been pretty busy with that.”

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PRETTY BUSY?!?! Rimington told York about the Boomer Esiason Foundation’s most recent accomplishment, donating $10 million dollars to help develop a drug that was approved and appears to have provided a cystic fibrosis CURE for 4-percent of those affected by the disease.

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Allow me to sidetrack for a moment.. in April of 2013 I profiled an Omaha family, including two sisters who battle cystic fibrosis daily.  I will NEVER forget watching Alexa, then 7, and Presley, then 17-months, stopping their game of cards to strap on corded life jacket-like devices which literally SHOOK the mucus from their lungs and digestive tracts.  Alexa told me about how much she coughs.  Their parents told me about their fears, seeing the side effects of this disease take a toll on their girls, and reading stats about treatments and life expectancy.  CLICK HERE TO SEE THE HALL’S STORY.

It is wonderful to advocate for a cause.  It is inspiring to host events and give of your time and energy to help others.  But Dave Rimington and BEF may be on the CUSP OF A CURE for people, for CHILDREN just like Alexa and Presley Hall.  That is absolutely incredible.

Kind of makes football seem like an insignificant afterthought.. but in case you’re curious, Rimington backs his Huskers, losing season or not.

“We’ve just got to have some patience,” said Rimington.  “We’ve got a new staff in place.  We’ve just go to give them time to produce.”

To wrap up our interview, Andrew asked for advice for today’s Huskers.  When you read what Dave Rimington said, I hope you take it to heart as much as I did, football player or not.

‘Just work hard,” said Rimington.  “Every day, you’ve just got to try to get better.”

That’s what I’ll think of now when I hear RIMINGTON.  To work hard, and every day, try to be better.  Two little girls in Omaha may not know much about football or Outland Trophies, but someday to them, RIMINGTON may also mean a long, healthy life.

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Click here to read more about #50 Dave Rimington via his biography with Nebraska Athletics.

Click here to ready Randy York’s recent profile of Rimington: “Why Dave Rimington Was The Inaugural HOF Choice”

Click here to visit the Boomer Esiason Foundation website; click here to visit the BEF Facebook page.

The 2015 Rimington Trophy presentation, honoring the nation’s top collegiate center, will take place at Lincoln’s Rococo Theater on January 16th.  Click here for more information.

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PREVIOUS POST.. Class of 2003, Curt Tomasevicz!

NEXT WEEK.. Class of 2012, Rex Burkhead!

Going For Gold

Every week, as I write and visualize my next Throwback Thursday Husker feature, I inevitably bother three people EVERY. SINGLE. TIME.

Photojournalist Tyler White… because he’s not busy enough shooting and piecing together daily news stories, or shooting Nebraska football games on the sidelines every weekend.. he’s also a GENIUS when it comes to editing these Throwback stories.  He KNOWS the game; he KNOWS Nebraska Football; he KNOWS where every, single shot is in our archives.  He now RUNS from me when I start walking his way on Wednesday or Thursday.. but I will CHASE him because he’s just that darn good.

Producer/Editor/Photographer Josh Gear… because, simply put, THE GUY IS A GENIUS.  If you have a technical question about ANYTHING, from YouTube conversions to graphics to format, Josh is THE MAN to help you.  And he does it with a smile and positive attitude 24/7… even though he may be cursing on the inside because I bother him so much.

Sports Anchor/Reporter Matt Lothrop… because he is A VAULT of Nebraska football information.  A VAULT.  The dude knows every stat, every inside story, every little-known tidbit of info about the program.  He can also find EVERYTHING I need when it comes to highlights and archive video.  Yesterday, I asked for two clips from games in 2003 and 2001.. Matt brought them to my desk within 10 minutes.  Folks, we just moved buildings–the fact he even knew where these tapes were is INSANE to me!

When Matt came over to my desk, knowing I needed the material for a Throwback story, he asked who I was featuring.

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#35 Curt Tomasevicz, Fullback/Linebacker, 1999-2003 (Photo courtesy Nebraska Athletics)

When I told him it was Curt Tomasevicz, Matt said, “I really hope that guy never gets into broadcasting.  He’s good at everything he does!”

PROOF: 3-time Olympic Bobsledder, winning gold for the USA in 2010.  Holds a Master’s in Engineering and is working on his PhD WHILE teaching students at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.  Plays guitar with his own band, and was even invited up on stage to play with legendary front man Eddie Vedder and Pearl Jam.

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Seriously?!?

Click here to watch KETV’s Throwback Thursday feature on #35 Curt Tomasevicz!

I first heard about Curt YEARS ago through one of my friends, Mike Tomasevicz.  Every time I’d see him, he’d tell me about his cousin, Curt, and the incredible things he was doing with the US National Bobsled team.. that they were winning events left and right and might make it to the Olympics.  In 2006, THEY DID, representing America at the Turin games.

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Maybe it’s like eating one Lays potato chip.. you can’t just have ONE, you want MORE.

Tomasevicz and Team Night Train continued to compete, winning the World Championship in 4-man bobsled in 2009.  Together, they traveled north to Vancouver to vie for Olympic Gold.

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(Photo courtesy http://www.tomaseviczbobsled.com/)

February of 2010, Tomasevicz and the USA 4-man team ended a 62-year gold medal drought, winning Olympic Gold in the Vancouver Games.  They’d return to the Olympics four years later, winning Bronze at the 2014 games in Sochi.  By the time Tomasevicz retired from bobsledding in 2014, he’d earned a total of 11 world medals, including 9 World Championships in addition to his Olympic hardware.  (And in case you are wondering, that gold medal IS HEAVY.. Tomasevicz says, weighing about 19 ounces!)

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Click here to watch KETV’s story from Dec 2013: Small Town Shows Huge Support For Olympian

Click here to watch KETV’s story from Jan 2014: Curt Tomasevicz Heads to Olympic Games in Sochi

Click here to watch KETV’s story from Feb 2014: Olympian Returns To Nebraska With Bronze Medal

An incredible feat, no doubt.  What is also impressive to me is the way ‘Nebraska’s Olympian’ has handled his success… humble, gracious and down-to-earth.  From the get-go, as KETV followed Tomasevicz’s success, he has responded to every text, every phone call, every email.  He’s never ‘too busy’, or ‘too big’ for his home state.  He’s a Shelby, Nebraska native who has never forgotten his roots, even if a few Husker fans may have forgotten that before he hit the bobsled track, he was a walk-on at Nebraska hitting the field at Memorial Stadium.

“I think the walk-ons that go through this program have an enhanced sense of pride when they come here,” Tomasevicz recently told KETV’s Andrew Ozaki.  “A lot come from central Nebraska, small farm town communities, and they grew up watching this team.”

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Tomasevicz started at fullback, then moved to linebacker his junior year, playing in five games.  He had a huge moment his senior year against Colorado in the opening drive of the game.

“That was definitely a highlight because when I hit Jeremy Bloom, at the time we were both football players, later on we were both Olympians,” said Tomasevicz.  “He’s a downhill skier I met, and reminded him of that moment at the 2006 Opening Ceremonies.  He went on to play in the NFL, so he had the last laugh.”

Tomasevicz’s favorite moment came two years earlier before Nebraska’s game even began.  The Huskers’ game with Rice was moved to a week night, just days after the attacks on America on September 11, 2001.

“I think we were one of the first sporting events that took place, they moved our game up,” said Tomasevicz.  “When we played at Memorial Stadium, we didn’t do the Tunnel Walk.  We silently walked out onto the field and we had members of the armed services, as well as firefighters and police officers, they did our Tunnel Walk.  That was a pretty incredible moment, being a part of that.  I think that moment, at that time, made me realize there are things that are a lot more important than sports.”

Click here to see the 9/11 Tribute Tunnel Walk via HuskersNSide Production on YouTube.

Off the field, Tomasevicz earned Bachelors & Masters degrees in Engineering, making the Academic Honor roll all eight semesters of his college career.  He was also named to he 2003 Brook Berringer Citizenship Team for his work in the community, especially with kids.  Those volunteer efforts continued long after his time at Nebraska ended.

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Photo courtesy Sammy’s Superheroes & Amanda Polacek

Click here to read KETV’s story from Feb 2014: Olympian Posts Message For Little Boy With Cancer

Tomasevicz has been a longtime supporter of causes like Sammy’s Superheroes, raising money for children with cancer and their families.  He not only sends them personal messages, he takes part in their events and fundraisers.  He also speaks to schools across the state, sharing his story and advice with any class that invites him.  (Click here to learn more through his website.)

Recently, Tomasevicz also took on a new role: professor.  He’s teaching several engineering courses at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln while working on a PhD in biological systems engineering.  In the classroom, Tomasevicz doesn’t want to be known as the Olympian or the former Husker; he just wants his students to see him as their instructor.

“I just hope they think I have enough experience that I know what I’m talking about,” said Tomasevicz, who used much of his engineering education, including aerodynamics and biomechanics, during his bobsledding career.  “A lot of [what I do] is introducing engineering topics and concepts and kind of disguising it in an exciting way through sports.  If you can find a way to use real life, real world situations, it usually gets them a little more excited.”

As for today’s Huskers, there’s no scientific formula to fix the problems that have plagued Nebraska this season. (“That’s a sophomore level class, I’m sure,” joked Tomasevicz.)  Still, this Husker, turned Olympian, turned professor, reflects back once again the experiences, often stemming from sports, that have helped shaped him.

“We had some highs and lows, too.  You just have to wait out those lows,” said Tomasevicz.  “Being patient is a big thing.  Everybody makes mistakes.  Time will tell.  It puts into perspective Nebraska is not that guaranteed victory they used to be.  Nebraska will have to work hard for those wins.  Eventually they will come.”

Tomasevicz, a season ticket holder and self-described huge Husker fan, will keep on cheering for his team either from the sidelines or from wherever he is performing Saturdays.

Yes, performing.. he’s ALSO a guitar player, and his band, Blinker Fluid, plays at weddings and events across the state.

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Click here to watch Blinker Fluid playing at a recent event in Lincoln!

From science, to sports, to music, to LIFE.. here’s a guy who does what makes him happy, works hard at every challenge before him, and has found remarkable success on several fronts.  He’s not just an All-American guy, he’s All-Nebraskan, and proud of it.

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I think Matt Lothrop was on to something… Curt, next time I bump into you at a Pearl Jam concert, I may try to convince you to join our team here at KETV.  You’d fit right in with Tyler, Josh and Matt.  Husker, Olympian, Teacher, Throwback Thursday expert?  I’m no scientist, but the idea is clearly GOLD.

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Click here to read more about #35 Curt Tomasevicz via his bio with Nebraska Athletics!

Click here for more information about Curt Tomasevicz on his official website, on his official Facebook page, and on Twitter.

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PREVIOUS POST.. Class of 1990, Lt. Gregg Barrios!

NEXT WEEK.. Class of 1982, Dave Rimington!

Supporting Red & Blue

Some weeks.. I just need a giant PAUSE button.  Those times when my to-do list just gets longer and longer.  Those nights when I’m lying awake, thinking of everything I need to get done the next day.

We have had one of the most exciting adventures of our careers in the last month here at KETV, moving into our new home at 7 Burlington Station.  Along with planning, boxing up desks, and rehearsals in our new space, we were also keeping up (or trying to) with day-to-day news operations.  YOWSA–I think I speak for all of us when I say we were READY to move in and get back to normal!!

I tell you all of this… because I did not give this week’s Throwback Thursday Husker his much-deserved blog post in association with his story.  However, HE is so busy, I’m guessing he’s got more important things he’s focused on.. like keeping Omaha safe, and recruiting a new generation of heroes to do the same.

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#44 Gregg Barrios, Nebraska Kicker, 1987-1990

Lieutenant Gregg Barrios is one of the highest ranking officers to serve with the Omaha Police Department.  He’s active in his church and community, and he’s the father of eight children.  Barrios is also known for the four years he played football for the Huskers.

“Some people, when they get my name, they’ll recognize it, or ‘are you related to that guy who used to kick for Nebraska?’  I get that once in a while,” Barrios told me recently.  “Probably the most avid Nebraska fans, they can remember that far back.”

CLICK HERE TO WATCH KETV’S THROWBACK THURSDAY FEATURE ON #44 LT. GREGG BARRIOS!

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Barrios is a Nebraska guy, born and raised.  The Creighton Prep remembers listening to the Huskers as a kid, a boy with big dreams early on.

“Playing football in the backyard, listening to Lyell Bremser and all that, wishing that someday I could play for Nebraska,” said Barrios.  He still remembers his first game, one he got to suit up for, a privilege allowed to a few, select freshmen.

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“I’m nervous, some hot shot California upperclassmen is like, ‘what are you nervous for? You’re not even gonna play.’  Some Nebraska guy’s like, ‘you don’t get it,'” said Barrios.  “I remember running on the field, it was a night game against Florida State.  And at the end of the game, I ended up getting to play.”

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Barrios’ favorite game came the following year, when #2 Nebraska played #10 Texas A&M to kick off the 1988 college season.

“I found out the night before I’d be starting.  I was like ‘oh my gosh!'” said Barrios.  “I’m put into the game, had a really good game.  I kicked three field goals and there were three records for the Kickoff Classic, including longest field gal in a game.  Then, we won, of course.”

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Off the field, Barrios’ was interested in law enforcement, a curiosity sparked by having a dad in the military and by a professor specializing in criminal justice.  He joined the Omaha Police Department in 1996.

“I started uniform patrol like everybody else did,” said Barrios.  “I also worked in the warrants unit, working in training, worked in investigations, and now in backgrounds and recruiting.  This department is one of the best in the Midwest, by far.  We have a lot to offer for candidates.”

Barrios says there are many parallels between being a Husker football player and being a police officer (or firefighter, as his friend across the street, Asst Fire Chief John McCormick told me last year! Click here to read more!)  We are living in post-Ferguson times when police officers nationwide are facing increased scrutiny; similarly, today’s 3-6 Huskers are criticized, insulted and coached from couches across Nebraska.

“There’s the whole expectation that we are role models in society and we need to live up to a certain standard,” said Barrios.  But the Lieutenant is also quick to point out moments like Officer Kerrie Orozco’s funeral procession, when thousands of people in the Omaha metro area lined streets in the rain to pay their respects to Orozco and law enforcement officials everywhere.  People have brought food to local precincts, have posted messages showing their support and have held countless fundraisers for not just Officer Orozco and her family, but for other officers when they need it.

“That’s what makes the job a really fulfilling job and rewarding,” said Barrios.  “For the right person, it’s that service mentality.  We get to go out, do a job and we get a lot in return for it.”

And no matter what Nebraska’s record is, Barrios wants today’s players to know fans will be on their side.  He’s one of them.

“I will stick with them no matter what,” said Barrios.  “No matter who the coach was the last few years, I try to be a fan the best I can.”

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Photo courtesy CoachTomOsborne.com

Barrios remembers seeing Coach Tom Osborne’s reaction when other programs around the country rolled through coaches and administration every few years.

“He was frustrated by that because he saw it’s difficult to build a program, to build up your recruits and instill your game plan and everything you’re going to do with a program,” said Barrios.  “I think over time, Nebraska will be back.  It’s just going to take the right fit, the right recruits, to put it all together.”

Barrios’ advice for the 2015 Huskers is the same he gave his son, ALSO a collegiate kicker. (Russell Barrios graduated from Omaha Gross and is currently playing football for the Colorado School of Mines.)

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“I always talked to him about something that kickers do, keep your head down, follow through,” said Barrios.  “That’s something about life.  Keep your head down, stay humble, keep focused on what you’re doing and follow through.  You make a commitment, you stick with it.”

Editor’s note… this advice works for working mommas as well as football players.  Deep breath.  Shut out the noise.  Head down and focus.  Follow through.

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CLICK HERE for more information about becoming an officer with the Omaha Police Department!

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LAST WEEK.. Class of 2008, Zach Potter!

THIS WEEK.. Class of 2003, Curt Tomasevicz!